Chemical profile: Toluene

03 March 2008 00:00  [Source: ICB]


Toluene is used in large quantities as an octane booster in gasoline. Its main chemical use is to make benzene and xylenes. In the hydrodealkylation (HDA) process, toluene and hydrogen are reacted to make benzene. Toluene disproportionation (TDP) converts toluene to benzene and xylenes, while selective toluene disproportionation (STDP) produces a paraxylene (PX)-rich stream. Transalkylation (TA) produces xylenes from toluene and C9 aromatics.

Toluene is also used in solvents and to make toluene di-isocyanate (TDI) with minor uses in caprolactam (capro), nitrobenzene, benzoic acid and benzyl chloride.

The three grades are: TDI-grade of over 99% purity nitration grade (98.5%) for solvents and HDA/TDP plants and commercial grade (96%) for gasoline blending and HDA feedstock.


Players say demand has been steady and supply is quite balanced. Most HDA units in Europe are currently operational, supported by the spread between toluene and benzene. There is additional interest at present for extra volumes in the US, where prices are higher than Europe. But the volatility of crude and gasoline in both regions is limiting export opportunities, although players expect the start of the US driving season in March to boost demand.

US-based consultancy DeWitt & Co. estimates that demand for toluene in Europe in 2007 was 2.38m tonnes, out of which 1.38m tonnes was converted to benzene and xylenes, and 526,000 tonnes was consumed by solvents.


Toluene prices have been volatile, fluctuating with crude and gasoline values, which have hit new record highs in February. European contracts slipped by $5/tonne in February to $895-905/tonne. Spot prices in late February were firm at around $915-935/tonne.


Most toluene is produced from the catalytic reforming of naphtha or from pyrolysis gasoline (pygas) coproduced in the steam cracking of liquid feeds.

A very small amount is still produced from light oil formed by the carbonization of coal, while small quantities are recovered as a by-product in styrene manufacture. The Cyclar process, developed by BP and UOP, converts butanes and propanes in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to aromatics. So far, only one commercial plant has been built, in Saudi Arabia.


DeWitt expects demand growth in Europe to be positive, but low. Producers talk growth at less than GDP rates. Europe has excess capacity and exports are needed to keep the region balanced. However, with the buildup of capacity in Asia between 2008-2010, trade flows between Europe and Asia could change.

New plants are planned in China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand and India. Two projects are also planned in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Demand in Europe will get a fillip next year when ExxonMobil starts up its new TDP unit in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Company Location Capacity
BASF Mannheim, Germany 140
BP Refining & Petrochemicals Lingen, Germany 60
CEPSA Algeciras, Spain 200
ExxonMobil Botlek, Netherlands 240
Fina Antwerp Olefins Antwerp, Belgium 100
INA Rijeka, Croatia 70
Sisak, Croatia 88
INEOS Olefins Dormagen, Germany 130
Kirishinefteorgsyntez Kirishi, Russia 55
Lukoil Permnefteorgsyntez Perm, Russia 60
MOL Szazhalombatta, Hungary 110
Neftochim Burgas, Bulgaria 50
NIS-Rafinerija Pancevo, Serbia 50
Novopolotsk Oil Refinery Novopolotsk, Belarus 60
Omsk Refinery Omsk, Russia 80
PCK Schwedt Schwedt, Germany 52
Petkim Aliaga, Turkey 162
Petrogal Oporto, Portugal 170
PKN Orlen Plock, Poland 180
Polimeri Europa Porto Marghera, Italy 50
Priolo, Italy 240
Ryazan Refinery (TNK) Ryazan, Russia 63
SABIC Europe North Tees, UK 330
Shell Godorf, Germany 130
Heide, Germany 125
Stanlow, UK 80
Wesseling, Germany 100
Slovnaft Bratislava, Slovakia 86
Syndial Porto Torres, Italy 70

NOTE: * only plants over 50,000 tonnes/yearSOURCE: DEWITT & CO.

Profile last published December 6, 2004

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